Walmart: Lessons learned from a commitment to packaging reduction

By Packaging Digest Staff in Sustainable Packaging on September 17, 2013


Ron SasineThe results are in. Last year, we reached a goal we set back in 2007—to reduce packaging in the products we sell by 5 percent by 2013. This success was an exercise in collaboration and perseverance as we worked closely with suppliers, manufacturers and distributors to find new solutions and ultimately reach our goal. 


Achieving this milestone involved a number of multi-year initiatives to eliminate unnecessary packaging components, reduce the mass of the remaining packaging materials and optimize the performance of the packaging we use in each product category. As we worked to reduce packaging, we found that our greatest successes came when we optimized packaging. This approach not only consider the volume of the material used, but the integrity, portability, recyclability, reusability and overall life cycle of the materials we use to deliver products to our shelves safely and efficiently. The result is a more holistic approach that considers the environmental and economic impact of packaging throughout our supply chain. 


When we began our effort six years ago, the first obstacle we faced was finding a standard for measuring the amount of packaging we use and developing a procedure to track it over time. There weren't any packaging reduction metrics commonly used across the packaging or retail industries, so we collaborated with packaging manufacturers, consumer products companies and a group of government entities and NGOs to create the Walmart Packaging Scorecard, a methodology for measuring and improving the environmental impact of the packaging we use. 


Here are just a few recent results from the grocery category:
Packaged salads: We cut plastic resin by an average of 40 percent, amounting to more than 1.2 million pounds of plastic film.
Bottled sauces: We made the packaging in a line of bottled sauces 44 percent lighter, improving our shipping efficiency.
Dairy: We reduced the amount of wood fiber used in the corrugated shipping cases for a line of dairy products by 18 percent.
Processed meat: We eliminated 26 percent of the corrugated used in shipping a line of processed meats by redesigning the shape and style of box.


As a result of these efforts, we not only reached our goal, but we were able to reduce the overall greenhouse gas impact of our packaging by an average of 9.8 percent in our Walmart U.S. stores, 9.1 percent in our Sam's Clubs in the U.S. and 16 percent in our Walmart Canada stores. Our achievements in this area demonstrate the power of collaboration and the power of sustainability as a driver of innovation and business improvement. It's at the heart of who we are and part of our mission to deliver everyday low prices to our customers.


With the new focus on optimization, we've created a framework for driving progress that can positively impact the business, cut costs, reduce waste and ensure product integrity through the entire product lifecycle—from transport to store shelves to customers' homes.


But it doesn't stop there. The next step in this process is the rollout of our Sustainability Index. Now being used in select categories, this index helps us evaluate packaging as one piece of the bigger puzzle of product sustainability. The index will help us keep a spotlight on those categories where packaging has been identified as an area of key environmental and market concern. At the same time, it will allow us to raise the visibility of other issues impacting supply chain sustainability and apply our size and scale to find broader solutions.


To learn more about Walmart's global sustainability efforts, visit The Green Room.

 

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